Mahdism: A belief that an Islamic redeemer will change the world into a perfect Islamic
Malik Zafar Haddad for years wanted to leave Beirut to avoid the raw tensions he saw simmering between the city’s Christians and Muslims. Lying awake one night, he gently awakened his wife and told her of a premonition: “We must leave Beirut to get away from this cesspool of constant fear. Someone will light a match and then we are no more,” Malik said in Arabic. “We must go to America.”
His wife had rolled over on to her side. “Malik, but why?”
“Please, listen to me,” he said. “We would be free to live as we wish. I have friends who left after the war and settled in the state of Michigan. They have written to tell me we would be welcome. They will help us.”
“What about our son?” she asked. Her eyes strained to adjust to a flash of light when Malik turned on an overhead light. She closed her eyes a moment and turned away. “He’s so young. He cannot cope with this great change. And I know I cannot either.” She pulled a corner of the bed sheet over her face as Malik came back to bed. “So dear, brush aside this nonsense and go back to sleep.”
“No, Fatima,” he said, sitting up, putting a pillow behind his head. “We must go because of our son. We will go and provide for him a life he could never have in Lebanon.”
“Oh, Malik, turn off the light and go to sleep. I know you mean well, but our home is here,” she said. “Malik, please, don’t do this.”
Malik, his wife and their son, Rafi Fouad, arrived in Detroit in May 1956, five months before Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal. The move sparked a war that pitted Egypt against France,
Great Britain and Lebanon’s southern neighbor Israel. The Lebanese believed any conflict on their border this time eventually would lead to the destruction of Beirut, the Paris of the Middle East, and a never-ending war between the country’s Christian, Druze and Muslim militias.
Haddad’s Market & Delicatessen opened its doors in early fall 1956. Malik Haddad had acquired a two-story building with savings he’d earned as a luxury automobile salesman in Beirut. The owner of the building was a cousin who’d left Lebanon in 1946. The Haddads lived in a quaint five-room apartment above the shop at the corner of Fort and Brush streets in Detroit’s Bricktown neighborhood, not far from the city’s Greektown.
The deli market featured what Malik considered to be the best of Mediterranean delicacies: from baba ghanoush and falafel to fried eggplant, grape leaves, hummus, lamb kebab, tahini and za’atar. Each day, Malik and Fatima served customers white coffee, an herbal tea made with orange blossom water. They also sold araq, an aniseed-flavored drink poured with water over ice in a glass, and Almaza, a Lebanese beer, to the growing Middle Eastern immigrant populace in Detroit.
But seven-year-old Rafi Haddad had a difficult time adjusting to his new surroundings, a new culture and a growing city that experienced an ever-increasing migration of blacks from the South, driven North by the prospect of high-paying jobs in automobile factories.
Children at his virtually all-white school made fun of him because of his last name, his ethnic background and his religion: Islam. Sixteen other students whose parents had immigrated from Lebanon and Syria attended Lake Michigan Grade School on Adams Avenue. School administrators fell in step with white parents, warning these children, that for their own safety, they should not attend school dances or any other after-school activities. Teachers had the immigrant students sit at the back of the classrooms, an empty row of seats separating them from white students.
In the early winter of 1960, Rafi Haddad, now eleven, ran away from home, scurrying through downtown streets until he came to the foot of the Douglas MacArthur Bridge, which crosses the Detroit River. He scampered along the bridge’s sidewalk into what he thought would be Windsor, Ontario. But young Rafi got lost in Belle Isle, a large peanut-shaped island in the middle of the river.
Malik Haddad had been dead about six hours when police found his son rooting through a turned-over garbage can looking for food.
Five white teenagers had come into the deli after school and ordered beer. Two customers, a young girl and her mother, were in the deli at the time. “Sorry, Mr. Haddad,” said the mother, who hurriedly left with her daughter when she saw the leather-jacketed boys. Malik ordered them to leave, but panicked when one of the youths pulled a switchblade from a back pocket of his jeans. Malik ran toward his wife standing at the shop’s cash register. “Call police,” he yelled. “Fatima, call police.” The four other teenagers tackled him, tore off his apron and pants. The one brandishing the knife shouted at Fatima: “Call the police, bitch, and this Arab rat of yours is dead meat.” Fatima fainted and fell to the floor seconds after she nervously had opened the register. The gang yanked off Malik’s shirt and kicked him in the ribs, groin, arms and legs. The one with the switchblade slammed his foot into Malik’s head, dropped to his knees and shoved the six-inch knife into Malik’s abdomen. Another nonchalantly strolled to the register and grabbed $46 in cash and some loose change.
Young Rafi had been upstairs finishing some homework when he heard his mother’s mournful wails. His father had bled to death by the time he saw his grieving mother on her knees, her arms clutching her husband’s bloodied head. The boy stood, unmoving, at the bottom of the stairway, mouth agape, eyes opened wide. Then he slowly walked toward his mother, unsure of how to react. At the edge of a pool of blood, he looked down and cried, “Mama, mama, what’s wrong?”
“Rafi,” his distraught mother pleaded in a raspy voice. “Help me ... help me. Your father ... look what they did ... to your father.” Rafi bolted out the front door of the shop into the cold night air dressed in tennis shoes, jeans and a plaid cotton shirt.
Fatima Haddad operated the deli a few more months before she sold it, its entire inventory and the second-floor living quarters and moved to Colorado, where her sister had lived since the late 1940s. The older Dalia had met a vacationing Denver businessman in Beirut in late 1947 and followed him to the United States. They married and divorced in the same year. Dalia McKenzie, now an American citizen, saved most of her alimony payments and opened a beauty parlor in downtown Colorado Springs. She wanted her younger sister to join her business as a bookkeeper and receptionist.
The move west would be for the best, Fatima Haddad told her son. “We must leave behind this filthy town and be in a clean and pure home,” she said to Rafi one evening after he returned home from school. “We have to get away from these people here. They killed your father. I hate them.”
Dalia’s beauty parlor, which she called Panache, had a growing clientele: wives of college professors at Colorado College and the wives and girlfriends of U.S. Air Force personnel stationed at the new U.S. Air Force Academy. Dalia wanted to expand her shop by buying a shoe store next door, space enough for an eclectic array of beauty supplies from Europe. It would be the city’s first shop offering such imported goods. For that she needed a bank loan.
Fatima drove to the Colorado State Bank on South Wahsatch Avenue in the summer of 1961. She brought with her the beauty shop’s account books. She and her sister wanted to get a business loan of no more than $10,000 to buy out the shoe store, remodel it and then purchase from European suppliers a wide range of cosmetics, perfumes and hair treatment products.
“Well, ma’am,” said the loan officer, “you show here a good cash flow, but you have no plan for how you and your sister will market the goods you’ll be selling in your new business.”
“But I just told you of our plans,” said Fatima.
“I know that, ma’am,” the young man said. “But we need a five-year plan drawn up by a reputable certified public accountant.”
“That will cost us money,” she said.
“I have someone I can suggest you use,” he said, “right over here on Cimarron Street. It’s real close by.”
“I don’t think so, sir,” said Fatima, who started closing Panache’s account books. “I’ll have to go elsewhere.”
“You won’t have much luck anywhere, ma’am, without partnering up with such a firm,” he said, “because banks in this state don’t make loans to sole proprietors like you and your sister. Without such a firm, you’ll need your husband to co-sign for the loan.”
“I have no husband. I’m a widow,” said Fatima. “Well, then your sister’s husband.”
“She has no husband, either,” she said. “I don’t understand this. This is America. What is
going on here? This bank makes no loans to women? Why? That’s like back in my country.”
“I’m so sorry, ma’am.” The loan officer pushed back his chair and quickly stood up when he
saw the bank’s president approaching his desk.
“Sit down, Stan,” said a tall, well-dressed man in what appeared to be a tailored dark suit. He smiled at Fatima. “Good to meet you, ma’am. You opening a bank account?”
“No, sir,” said Fatima, standing up and slipping on her coat. “I came here for my sister to get a loan so we can expand our business. This man says –– ”
“My name’s Mark Jensen, ma’am. I’m the bank president. You are?”
“Uh, Fatima Haddad.” She ran a hand through her long tresses of black hair.
“Mrs. Haddad, why don’t you bring your books with you and come to my office. Okay?” He
took Fatima by the arm. “We’ll talk about this loan you want over some good coffee.”
“That would be nice, sir.”
“Oh, please,” he said. “Just call me, Mark.”
Fatima Haddad walked out of the Colorado State Bank with a payment book for a low-interest $12,500 loan. She also had given Mark Jensen her phone number. The two of them celebrated the new business venture that night at the exclusive Colorado Springs Country Club.
In less than six months, Fatima Haddad, a Maronite Christian, married Mark Jensen, who smothered thirteen-year-old Rafi in the strictures of a fundamentalist Baptist household. Jensen argued with Fatima about her son’s name. “It won’t do in a truly Christian household,” he’d told her. “I want it changed to something like, ah, Ralph or Ronald. I don’t like that dirty Arab name. The boy has to get baptized a Christian. Rafi is not a Christian name.”
The boy’s name was changed to Raphael Francis Jensen, but Fatima burned the baptismal papers on a weekend her new husband had gone to Denver. She continued to call her son Rafi when they were alone together.
Jensen enrolled his stepson in a private Christian school, where most of the all-white students and faculty ridiculed him for his dark complexion, bushy eyebrows and aquiline nose. To his face and behind his back they called him “the dirty Arab Ralph.” His stepfather forced him to go to church twice a week, on Wednesday nights and again for a lengthy service on Sunday mornings. He was allowed to wear blue jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt only at home. He had to wear pleated trousers, a white shirt and tie, whether it was going to the grocery store with his mother, to school or to church. His oxfords had to be shined twice a week, on Saturday nights and on Tuesday nights. He was allowed to watch television for an hour each night of the week Monday through Friday, except for Wednesdays, after his homework was completed. The living-room television was kept off on Sundays and Saturday nights.
Raphael Francis walked away from the Jensen household on his 18th birthday, after Mark Jensen had been arrested on federal embezzlement charges and his mother detained for questioning. Jensen was accused of siphoning off nearly a million dollars from Colorado State Bank accounts
over a five-year period. The company’s vice president, Marilyn Hollander, also was arrested. Jensen and Hollander were detained at Denver’s airport, about an hour before they were to board a flight bound for Mexico City.
Local police and FBI agents had ransacked the Jensen home, tearing up carpeting and floorboards, punching holes in wall plaster and ripping apart mattresses. They were looking for hidden stacks of cash. They found nothing. Jensen already had wired the money to banks in Mexico and Panama. But they found Fatima, her arms and feet bound to a four-poster bed. She had been beaten and sexually abused. Following her recovery she was handcuffed and taken to the FBI office in Denver and jailed. During several hours of questioning agents repeatedly asked about where her husband kept all the money he’d stolen. She said she knew nothing. But the questions continued about the money and the bank. Authorities also asked why she’d left Lebanon, why she’d come to Colorado, why she’d left Detroit. They asked about her sexual preferences. That’s when she spit in an agent’s face. The agent, a woman, slapped her, called her an “Arab bitch.” Fatima Haddad was left in a Denver city jail cell until her sister Dalia picked her up a day later.
Rafi already had hitched a ride on Interstate 25 and headed north to downtown Denver, unaware his mother was lying semi-conscious in a hospital. When his mother didn’t show to pick him up on his last day of high school, he’d walked the three miles back to the Jensen house. Windows had been broken, doors torn off hinges and roofing tiles scattered around the front and back yards. He’d wanted to call Dalia but all the phone jacks in the house had been ripped from the walls or baseboards. He walked over piles of carpeting and splintered floorboards to his mother’s bedroom. She and Jensen for months had slept in separate rooms. His mother’s dresser was overturned, her jewelry and under-clothes scattered about and glass perfume bottles shattered. A heavy odor of Chanel No. 5 permeated the room. A bloodied mattress cover had been ripped to shreds.
In the hallway outside his mother’s room, Rafi pulled a chain to lower the attic’s ladder. Funny, he thought, that whoever wrecked the house had missed the five-inch chain hanging from
the ceiling’s trap door. Nothing in the attic had been disturbed. A metal lockbox containing a short stack of $50 and $100 bills was untouched. Rafi had stolen the money from his stepfather’s desk drawer. He shoved the wad of cash into his underpants, climbed down the attic ladder and walked out the house’s open front door.
In Denver, he checked into a luxury hotel and ordered food, whiskey and beer and two prostitutes. In less than a week, Rafi had blown most of the money, about $4,500, and aimlessly wandered around downtown with only $120 in small bills in his pocket. Down the street he saw a military recruiting office. Thinking about it for only a moment, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as Rafi F. Haddad, beating a draft notice by a month.
Six months later, in September 1967, he was in South Vietnam.
In the Army, he fought back taunts about his looks, his ethnicity, his Islamic faith. During boot camp at Fork Polk, Louisiana he broke the arm of a fellow recruit, a burly white teenager from Texas who called him a “hooked-nose Arab rat.” Another recruit slapped him on the back of the head and called him a “kike.” After breaking the recruit’s nose in a barracks fight, Rafi Fouad told the pimply faced, overweight white boy from Indiana that he wasn’t a “stinking Jew.” He hit again him in the face. “I’m Lebanese.” Then he picked up the recruit’s head and slammed the back of it into the barracks’ wood floor. “Don’t fuck with God’s chosen, you asshole.”
Haddad posted the best marksmanship scores of any other recruit at the time on the day he completed training on the rifle and pistol ranges. Recruits in his platoon kept their distance from him after that and never spoke to him again disparagingly, at least not to his face. At infantry training at Fort Riley, Kansas, instructors quickly recognized Rafi’s uncanny proficiency and accuracy with machine guns and mortars. On graduation day he was offered a posting to Officer Candidate School. But he turned it down and volunteered for Vietnam. Rafi Haddad wanted to leave the United States, a country and its people he’d come to despise, because of the ways they treated people like him: Muslims.
He relished the heat and humidity of South Vietnam, a pleasant change from the bitter cold and deep snows of Colorado. In Dong Nai province near Saigon, his detachment was assigned to an advisory team of soldiers from South Vietnam and the ROK, Republic of South Korea. Haddad quickly picked up Vietnamese phrases, and near the end of his combat tour was quite fluent in the language. A proficient marksman with his M-16 military rifle, he loved the sharp, crack sound it made when a round was discharged, the smell of cordite as it wafted around his nasal passages. He never flinched at killing a North Vietnamese Army soldier or a Vietcong combatant. It didn’t bother him when civilians were killed in a crossfire. That’s war, he thought, the way it’s supposed to be. He considered all soldiers, Communist and American, and Buddhist and Catholic Vietnamese civilians to be kafirs, an Arabic term for infidels.
At Vung Tau along the South China Sea coast, he machine-gunned to death eleven villagers. Afterward, he smeared his face, hands and arms with their blood. With a .45-caliber pistol he fired a shot into each of their heads. Returning to base camp a week later Corporal Rafi Haddad was arrested on murder charges and spent nearly a month in solitary confinement at an Army brig in Saigon. But a court-martial panel acquitted him of all charges for lack of evidence. There were no American witnesses to the carnage. He was ordered back to Fort Riley, where he was told he would receive a general, less-than-honorable, discharge from the Army.
Late at night on the tarmac at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon, Haddad stood near the end of a line for a commercial flight to Oakland, California. Less than fifty yards away to his left was the tail end of another line of soldiers, most of them in civilian clothes, about to board an “R&R” flight. For them, it would be rest and recuperation for five days in an Asian city somewhere filled with compliant and cheap prostitutes and an unlimited flow of beer, booze and drugs.
Haddad wondered what he could do to avoid flying back to the United States. He figured it was probably too late to finesse his way out this dilemma. He didn’t want to see his mother again. He despised her for leaving Lebanon, for doing nothing to save his father, for marrying a man who’d abused her time and again because she was an Arab.
He meandered over near the end of the R&R line. Soldiers were “grab-assing,” telling boastful tales of their potential sexual prowess with Asian women. “More bang for your balls in Bangkok,” said a soldier who’d dropped his travel bag to the ground behind him to offer cigarettes to those standing around him. “Come on, take one, smoke ‘em,” he said. “There’s more in Bangkok. The girls are givin’ ’em away, yeah, along with enough snatch to give ya’ll all the clap you’d ever want.” The soldier struck his Zippo lighter for the first of about seven bleary-eyed soldiers, cigarettes dangling from their mouths. They continued laughing and joking as they puffed away.
Haddad came up behind the soldier with the Zippo. “Hey, I’ll take one, and a light, too.” The soldier tapped out a Lucky Strike from a fresh pack and handed it to Haddad. After his cigarette was lit and a split second after the soldier turned around to light another cigarette, Haddad went limp at the knees and plucked a sheaf of R&R travel orders sticking out of a side pocket on the soldier’s travel bag. Rafi quickly shoved the orders inside the front of his khaki short-sleeve shirt. He turned and looked around. No one saw him make the move. He shuffled back to the end of the R&R line and finished his cigarette.
Without a hitch, he boarded the R&R flight to Bangkok, Thailand.
Haddad melted into the crowds along the streets of the city’s red-light Nana district. He never went to the bars; he didn’t have much money on him, only a few dollars. But he managed to buy a set of civilian clothes: jeans, tennis sneakers and two short-sleeve shirts. He tossed his uniform into a garbage can. For meals, he went to street vendors. After a week, he found work as a bouncer at a popular whore house. There, he was fed two free meals a day, seven days a week. He even received some tip money after breaking up fights and calling in local police to haul off drunk and carousing soldiers, sailors and Marines.
He didn’t plan to stay long in Bangkok. Haddad didn’t like being around Asians. He’d just come from a country where Asians were targets to kill. And he’d decided back on the tarmac at Tan Son Nhut he’d never return to the United States.
But his planned couple months’ sojourn in Bangkok turned into a stay of a few months shy of five years. In that time Haddad had managed to save a little more than $20,000 in U.S. currency. He had it on deposit at a bank three blocks from the whore house and kept a forged passport in a safety-deposit box there. At the end of March 1973 he withdrew all his savings and closed the account. With a small leather suitcase in hand he caught a taxi in front of the bank. It headed south to the docks. Haddad already had made arrangements to work as a deckhand on a freighter bound for Jakarta, Indonesia.
Two days after arriving, Haddad headed to the bustling commercial-district offices of the Houston-based Texas Gulf Oil Company. Shortly before he’d left Bangkok he saw in a local English-language newspaper an advertisement for oil field workers on off-shore drilling rigs in the Java Sea. As advertised, the pay was $3,000 a month, tax free. Rig roustabouts would be working two weeks off and three weeks on for eleven months of the year.
The twelve-hour shift work was backbreaking and exhausting. After his first three-week shift, Haddad went directly to a Jakarta hotel and slept for nearly two days. In two months of work he lost over twenty pounds. His six-foot frame slimmed. He now wore 28-inch waist work pants and a 15-inch neck work shirt. His dark black hair got longer, and he’d begun growing a beard. His complexion changed to a ruddy hue from exposure to the open sea, sun and occasional foul weather. His hands and fingertips became calloused.
A mournful cry of Juma awakened Haddad from a deep sleep on a Friday back in Jakarta. It was a Muslim call to prayer, the same clamorous ululation he’d heard as a young boy in Beirut. He quickly got dressed and went down to the hotel lobby. “All the faithful are at the mosque, sir,” said the elderly desk clerk, getting up from his prayer rug behind the counter. Haddad glanced out the hotel’s revolving front door and saw no pedestrians, no car traffic on the street.
“Friday prayers, yes?” Haddad asked.
“You are welcome, sir, to go,” the clerk said, coughing.
“Which way to the mosque?” Haddad dropped his room key on the front desk near a hand- cranked cash register.
“To your left, sir, out the door. It is not far. Please sir, go. I must get back to my prayers.” The clerk picked up Haddad’s key and slipped it into the room’s slot on the wall behind him. Then he turned around to kneel in prayer.
The streets were empty. All the shops and businesses were closed. The mosque was five blocks south. Scores of supplicants were gathered outside under a stone-arched portico. All were on their knees, praying silently. Hundreds more were inside the huge domed structure, a minaret on one side rising some ten stories. Incredible, he thought. Haddad stood for a while, watching men in front of him lie prostrate, their hands cupped over their heads. He dropped to his knees, leaned forward and rested his palms on the ground.
Haddad began daily visits to the mosque, as his work shifts allowed. Inside it was cool, damp, yet airy. It smelled of incense, of burning candles. Standing under the domed roof he was relieved not to be numbed by the exhaustive physical routines on an oil rig platform twenty-five miles out to sea.
He walked around the mosque’s expansive interior. Looking up at colorful cobalt-blue, inlaid ceiling tiles, he noticed several long Arabic phrases scripted in what appeared to be gold leaf. Haddad had no idea what the writing meant. But he wanted to know.
He quit working for Texas Gulf Oil, despite an offered promotion to rig foreman that would pay him an extra $1,000 a month. Haddad saw now no connection between Islam and the world’s vast and pervasive petroleum industry.
Its gargantuan profits went only to infidels in the West, not to Islam’s children. Haddad realized the Christian West would continue oppressing Muslims because of their religion, as it had for centuries, unless something was done to turn that tide. Followers of Islam long had wondered why infidels continued to be rewarded in this life. That sense of bewilderment, though, had begun
a progressive sense of bitterness and anger. By the end of the 20th Century it would harden into an unrepressed rage.
Haddad began meeting weekly at the mosque in Jakarta with the local Imam, a kind, gentle man whose life was wrapped in Islamic prayer, history and tradition. Under the Imam’s sponsorship and tutelage, he enrolled in a madrassa, a religious school, and became totally immersed in the Arabic language, which he gradually learned to read and write. Over a period of months he became a fluent speaker, memorizing passage after passage of the Koran by reciting phrases aloud several times each day. His studies at the madrassa included tutorials on Islamic history and tradition. He believed he’d found a cause worth dying for, but also killing for, when he felt justified to do so.
Two months before the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah in late 1979, the Imam and his protégé began a long sea voyage. Haddad now was carrying an Indonesian passport bearing a Muslim name the Imam had suggested: Abu Mahmoud Rahman. The new identity provided a symbolic means for Haddad to cut his ties to his past in the West.
The two traveled with hundreds of others on a freighter through the Strait of Malacca across the Indian Ocean and into the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden. Arriving at Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, they disembarked to join a camel caravan. The Imam was making his sixth Hajj, or Pilgrimage, to Mecca.
Abu Mahmoud dressed in the customary religious Ihram, two white sheets, not hemmed, secured around his body with a white sash. It symbolized purity and equality between rich and poor. He participated with his spiritual mentor and thousands of others in the tawaf, walking four times around Islam’s holiest place, the Kaaba, a large cubed structure inside Mecca’s al-Masjid al-Haram mosque.
Afterward though, Abu Mahmoud experienced no catharsis, no spiritual cleansing or awakening. He had expected a prophetic revelation of how to rid the world of infidels. The meaning of another ritual march, the sa’i, walking seven times between the small hills of Safa and Marwah
inside the al-Masjid al-Haram, was completely lost on Abu Mahmoud. What link, he wondered,
was there between these rituals and the real world controlled by the West? Wouldn’t the lives of all Muslims be made richer and more fulfilling if these pilgrims to Mecca banded together to rid the world of infidels?
On the fourth day of the twelve-day Pilgrimage his spiritual mentor from Jakarta erased any doubts Abu Mahmoud had about the relevance of Islam to the contemporary world. The Imam introduced him to an Afghan mullah. Abu Mahmoud immediately became convinced that Allah had called him to leave the Hajj and travel to Afghanistan.
At the end of December 1979, Soviet Union Army troops disguised in Afghan military uniforms, along with Soviet Special Forces, assaulted the presidential palace in Kabol, Afghanistan. President Hafizullah Amin was assassinated. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was underway. Its military occupation of the country would last nearly ten years.
September 16, 1987
About 140 miles northwest of Kabol, Afghanistan
Abu Mahmoud, perched on a mountain outcrop, saw Soviet tank units advancing in the distance. Stupid, he thought, to launch a tank assault at this time of day. In the high sun behind him, he saw through high-powered binoculars clouds of dust swirling around the tanks about three miles away. From the south and circling to the east toward the Bamiyan Valley were ten Mi-24 Hind Krokodil helicopters in a V-formation. They roared toward a small village at the base of the mountain.
Afghan mujahidin had been ready for hours for such an assault. Guerrilla spies the day before had relayed the expected Soviet Army attack plan to their commander, Abu Mahmoud. Inhabitants of the small village had been evacuated to caves on the other side of the mountain. Guerrillas took up positions in and behind rock emplacements about 200 feet below their commander. Scores of U.S.-supplied Stinger missiles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers from China were loaded and ready to fire.
The guerrillas waited for the helicopters to rake the village with cannon fire. As the Soviet Krokodil formation turned west, Abu Mahmoud signaled for a barrage of Stinger missiles. The missile systems homed in on heat emitted from the helicopters’ rear exhaust. In minutes, six helicopters blew up and two others crashed. The remaining two that escaped destruction flew off.
The squadron of T-64 tanks rumbled toward the village. Marching in front of the tanks were hundreds of infantry troops. Guerrillas in fox holes at the base of the mountain began firing AK-47s, sweeping over the enemy in a wide arc. The gunfire decimated the front rows of advancing Soviets. Abu Mahmoud waited for the tanks, now advancing at higher speeds. He ordered flare guns prepared. A countdown from fifty began. He silently counted. When he came to twenty, he raised his right arm. Two red flares shot into the sky and exploded over the village. At the count of five, Abu Mahmoud raised his left arm. Three green flares soared above: one over the village’s central market and the others to the right and left of the market.
PHOOSH ... PHOOSH ... PHOOSH.
RPG-7s fired in staggered order, left to right, at the tanks’ front line. Many fell short of their mark. The Soviet tanks were too far away. Abu Mahmoud’s right arm shot into the air. A guerrilla fighter, speaking Pashto, yelled into a walkie-talkie: “Wait five ... wait five.” In four minutes, the commander’s left arm went up, his hand in a fist. The guerrilla radio operator, who stood about ten yards from Abu Mahmoud on a ledge slightly below him, shouted into the walkie-talkie: “Fire, fire, fire.”
The first 400-foot line of remotely detonated dynamite charges stretching across the village’s main entrance erupted in a hale of roller-bearings, scrap iron and human and animal waste. Eleven Soviet tanks stopped dead in their tracks, their five-cylinder diesel engines left sputtering. Blue-black smoke poured from their exhaust vents. All their treads were blown off. Another barrage of RPG-7 fire, aimed at each tank’s 125-mm cannon turret, killed or severely wounded Soviet tank crews trying to escape the burning hulks of armor.
The Soviet’s second line of tanks stopped, their co-axial machine guns firing aimlessly in every direction. They reversed in line backward about twenty yards. Another 400-foot line of concealed dynamite charges exploded, rupturing the remaining phalanx of Soviet armor. Guerrillas in hiding around the village’s perimeter leaped from camouflaged spider holes and ran behind the tanks. Any Soviet soldier caught trying to escape from tank hatches was mowed down in AK-47 rifle fire.
Coming down from his mountain perch on the back of a pack mule, Abu Mahmoud surveyed the destruction and death on the valley’s floor. He fired his Walther nine-millimeter pistol at the heads of badly wounded Soviet soldiers. In similar fashion, other mujahidin finished off more Soviets.
Abu Mahmoud looked to the valley’s south and shook his head. He smiled and scratched his beard. No gunfire had strafed the Bamiyan Valley’s colorful and centuries-old Buddhist statues carved in a rock face on a mountain side. The largest Buddha was180 feet high, ages ago covered in mud mixed with straw and horsehair and painted bright red.